Op-Ed

Memo to GOP: My chronic disease isn’t a choice

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) (2nd-L) listens as U.S. President Donald Trump congratulates House Republicans after they passed legislation aimed at repealing and replacing ObamaCare, during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House, on May 4 in Washington, DC.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) (2nd-L) listens as U.S. President Donald Trump congratulates House Republicans after they passed legislation aimed at repealing and replacing ObamaCare, during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House, on May 4 in Washington, DC. Getty Images

Living with a chronic disease is hard, particularly when symptoms are often “invisible” to the public. Like most people, I juggle work, family and a commitment to healthy living. Looking at me, it’s difficult to tell that I’m often fatigued or in pain because I have ankylosing spondylitis (an autoimmune arthritis), fibromyalgia and Reynaud’s syndrome.

I certainly did not celebrate when House Republicans passed the American Health Care Act. Even with last-minute amendments, the plan worries me because I don’t believe it will provide the health care coverage that I need and can afford. While the Affordable Care Act, also commonly known as Obamacare, is far from perfect, it made efforts to protect millions of people like me from predatory pricing practices, plus provided common-sense essential health benefits.

In 2015, 6.1 million North Carolinians had at least 1 chronic disease and 2.5 million had two or more. As described in the bill, individual states would get to decide which benefits insurers must cover for those who have individual or small group market plans. Therefore, access to health care will vary based on where a person lives. I’ve lived in North Carolina my entire life. Certainly, I can’t pick up and move in an effort to seek reasonably priced insurance that will cover the treatments I need to address my specific conditions, nor should I have to move.

Instead of advancing health care in the United States, the AHCA looks backward. Its provisions return to a time when insurers could charge those with pre-existing conditions more for their insurance or impose annual and lifetime caps on benefits paid. The most vulnerable – people with chronic diseases, the elderly and children – may be at risk for financially crippling medical bills. Further, the AHCA repeals the individual mandate in Obamacare. Instead, it puts in place a continuous coverage penalty that would unfairly punish people with chronic diseases who may not be well enough to work consistently to obtain insurance through their employers or afford individual coverage.

Under the AHCA, insurers will be able to charge people who let their coverage lapse for more than two months up to 30 percent more on their premiums. What if I find myself in that position – needing to take a leave of absence from my job to focus on my health? Suddenly, I’m facing discrimination when finding a new plan. All patients with chronic diseases should be equally fearful of this possibility.

Now the Senate will take up health care reform and it sounds like they may toss out the AHCA and start fresh. The United States may be larger with a more diverse population than other industrialized nations, but other countries have figured out how to ensure coverage for all of their citizens – even those with conservative-leaning governments.

I urge U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and Sen. Richard Burr to move beyond partisan politics and consider their constituents. I’m lucky to have the support of my family, friends and peers from the online support group, CreakyJoints. But I should be able to rely on my North Carolina leaders to develop a sensible, responsible and meaningful health care plan that protects people rather than instilling fear that being sick will lead to both health and financial crisis.

Regan Reynolds of Raleigh is a lifelong North Carolinian. She works for a commercial real estate firm and is a volunteer advocate with CreakyJoints and the Global Healthy Living Foundation.

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